Wednesday 29 January 2020

The future is now... not 2016

Last year, Brian Cowen made a passionate and private speech to the Chamber of Commerce which somehow got into the public domain and redounded greatly to his credit. Some say that was the moment that marked a change in our perception of him.

This year, his handlers decided they could package that passion and put it out, praised, parsed and analysed, on the national broadcaster.

Any Chinese brothel keeper could have told them passion doesn't work that way. If you have to package it, you need something else as well. In a word, money.

And the problem is, even if the passion is not spent, the money certainly is. Against our economic reality, the speech was surreal. You don't need to be proficient in the Chinese art of numerology to realise that the references to 2016 in the Taoiseach's speech were absurd.

In case you missed it, the message was that with positive thinking, things will be good in 2016. The economy will be as bright as an Easter lily in time for glorious, commemorative parades outside the GPO so that "when we get to O'Connell St and look up at those men and women of idealism... we didn't fail".

Focusing on 2016 was ill- advised for a number of reasons. But one cannot be avoided. It hits you right between the eyes. 2016 is six years away, for God's sake. Then to add insult to injury, this was referred to as "the medium term". Six years is not the medium term. Six years is one year shy of a sentence for manslaughter.

This revealed more than anything else the gap between the Government and the reality of how people live. Many people -- and not just the 130,000 who lost their jobs in the last year -- don't know how they are going to get through the next six weeks, or six months, let alone six years.

Short-term thinking is precisely what we need right now.

The Taoiseach seems to think that references to the Easter Rising would resonate with us -- would re-awaken some dormant feelings of idealism the way O'Riada's Mise Eire of 1960 heralded the 1966 commemorations. Apart from the revival of Irish traditional music, that commemoration didn't produce much that was good. Besides, things couldn't have been more different then.

In the Sixties, Ireland was opening up like an early spring snowdrop. Now, in case they haven't noticed, everything is closing down. Small businesses, the lifeblood of the economy, are being run into the ground. It's not really a time to be extolling the blood sacrifice of 1916.

But the 2016 speech was not the only one the Taoiseach made last week. Last Monday, he took the trouble to defend the exemption of higher paid civil servants from the public service pay cuts, which the lower paid and the private sector are enduring.

To the Dublin Chamber he talked much about "phoney confrontations.''

In language he understands himself, I wonder which -- higher or lower paid civil servants -- he thinks the men and women of 1916 might have decided to defend?

Sunday Independent

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